Tuesday, January 10, 2017
David Bowie: The Last Five Years
Directed by Francis Whatley, David Bowie: The Last Five Years is the follow-up to the 2014 BBC documentary David Bowie: Five Years about the final five years in the life of one of music’s most creative and revered icons. Told through rare footage and audio clips of Bowie as well as new interviews from many of his collaborators including the musicians that worked with him in the final years of his life. The film follows the events that led to his seclusion and then his unexpected return with 2013’s The Next Day as well as the creation of his final album Blackstar and the play Lazarus. The result is an engrossing yet heartfelt film about the final years of one of the greatest people who lived on the face of the Earth.
On January 10, 2016 just two days after his 69th birthday and the release of his final album Blackstar, the world received news that David Bowie has died as it was followed by grief and tributes. It was news that shocked everyone as no one knew the man was ill yet it proved how mysterious he was as a person and as an artist who had often refused to be defined by any category. The film is about the final five years of his life broken down into these five years but also with reflections of his life during his time as a musical icon with a prologue that begins in 2003 during the tour to promote his twenty-third studio album Reality as he got rid of the personas that he was known for and was being himself in a jovial way. It was during the European leg of the world tour in 2004 where things went wrong as a show in Prague, Czech Republic had Bowie feeling ill during the performance as he was unable to finish the song as it was clear something wrong. Then on June 24, 2004, Bowie would play at the Hurricane Festival in Hamburg, Germany as he performed with some restrained power as it would be the last time he would play to large audience.
It was in that moment that Bowie suffered a mild heart attack as he would made sporadic public appearances in the next two years to do a few live performances and then he disappeared from the public eye for good only to make rare appearances at events. Then the film would shift into the final five years that led to the slow creation of his twenty-fourth album The Next Day which took two years to make where many of the musicians he had played with for years including producer Tony Visconti would make the album in secrecy with everyone signing non-disclosure agreement contracts. The musicians that include longtime collaborators like guitarist Earl Slick and pianist Mike Garson reveal the process of what Bowie wanted to do musically as Slick, guitarists Gerry Leonard and David Torn, bassist Gail Ann Dorsey, drummers Zachary Alford and Sterling Campbell, and multi-instrumentalist Catherine Russell play a few of the songs on that album.
Francis Whatley’s direction doesn’t just feature the interviews with those musicians that also include old collaborators Geoff MacCormack and Carlos Alomar but take a look through old and rare footage of Bowie in the past during his time of stardom. Especially as a few of the songs on The Next Day doesn’t just evoke elements of nostalgia but also his disdain towards fame and celebrity culture as well as his own view of life in the 21st Century told in the song Valentine’s Day. The years focused on 2014 and 2015 isn’t just about the creation of the song Sue (Or in a Season of Crime) with collaborators Maria Schneider and Donny McCaslin. It’s also in the making of the play Lazarus as actor Michael C. Hall, co-writer Edna Walsh, director Ivo Van Hove, and one of the producers talk about the making of the play as it was something Bowie wanted to do for a long time going back to his attempted play adaptation of George Orwell’s 1984 that was rejected by Orwell’s estate.
Whatley and his editors would unveil rare footage of an unmade and unfinished film staging of Diamond Dogs that featured elements of his aborted 1984 play as it showed that long ambition of Bowie to stage a play. It would then be inter-cut with the making of his final album Blackstar with very few people including video director Johan Renck who knew that Bowie was dying. There is also a rare picture of Bowie in the rehearsal for Lazarus that is quite devastating as it shows how much his cancer was taking away from him yet he was still fighting. Whatley also would unveil the vocal outtakes of Bowie singing the songs from that album as it showed a man fighting to sing with every ounce of his body no matter how little time he had.
David Bowie: The Last Five Years is an incredible film from Francis Whatley and BBC Films. It’s a documentary film that fans of Bowie will definitely want to see but it also offer something for those who don’t know much about Bowie or his music. Yet, it is portrait of a man who remained defiant to his dying day in making you think he’s this when he’s really indefinable. In the end, David Bowie: The Last Five Years is a remarkable film from Francis Whatley.
Related: Cracked Actor - David Bowie: Five Years
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